It truly is a golden era for football – "soccer" for the majority of you in North America – in that fans can, through the magic of multiple sports television channels and also the Internet, actively follow the best of the best top-flight leagues in the world. The English Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga are all available to American sports fans via different TV packages, and the Bundesliga will soon be featured in the United States via FOX Sports. It is safe to claim that there has never been a better time to be a follower of the world's game, as the popularity of football is growing even with a population that, in the past, had largely ignored the sport.
Odds are that anybody who even stumbled upon this piece is aware of the individuals who are the top players in world football today. Men such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have become household names around the world, even in countries where football is, at best, a second-tier sport that is rarely thought of except once every four years. Because of the World Cup, television deals that broadcast international leagues around the world and also worldwide advertising campaigns, Messi and Ronaldo are on par with athletes such as LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and Sidney Crosby in North America.
Due to the popularity of world football in 2015, not all of the men who check in on the list of the most underrated players in the game today will be anonymous to even casual observers of the sport. In fact, the player who starts things out made history due to the enormous transfer fee that he fetched only a couple of years ago. He continues to be disrespected by far too many fans and analysts who, for reasons that escape the mind, refuse to list him among the top players in the world. That is going to change sooner rather than later.
22 Gareth Bale
Bale will continue to be an underrated player until observers start listing him right alongside both Messi and Ronaldo. Real Madrid fans have disgraced themselves by daring to boo the Welsh wonder when he has been on club duty, and the whispers have been floated out there that his return to the Premier League could come as soon as the summer of 2015. Bale will certainly have his choice of suitors, as he is a top-five overall player even if some doubters choose to ignore that reality because of whatever biases they have.
21 Bradley Wright-Phillips
BWP is the best English striker in the world today. Let me repeat that for those of you in the back of the class. Bradley Wright-Phillips is the best English striker in the world today, and those of you who have whatever opinions you have about Major League Soccer are going to have to put those “hot takes” to bed and tuck them in for good. Wright-Philips made history in 2014 when he equaled the record for most goals scored in a single MLS season (27). Watch out for BWP in 2015, as he is looking to better what he achieved what he accomplished while with the New York Red Bulls a season ago.
23. Marco Sportiello
The Italian National Team will soon be looking for a new No. 1. Sportiello may, in a few years, prove to be the man for the job. Sportiello has excelled since taking over the starting gig at Atalanta, putting together multiple standout performances that have some of the bigger clubs in the world taking notice. Most notably could be none other than Juventus, the biggest club in the country and one that is on the verge of saying farewell to multiple legends who have been heroes at the club and national levels.
20 Nathan Burns
Burns has taken the A-League by storm, becoming the most prolific scoring in the Australian top-flight after linking up with Wellington Phoenix. The 26-year old made history in December of 2014 when he became the fastest player to get to ten league goals in the history of the A-League, and Burns is reportedly being scouted by multiple clubs. While a move to China could be in the works by the time the summer of 2015 rolls around, Burns has claimed that he is keeping his options open. He has committed himself to the A-League side for the time being, but that will likely change if the right offer comes around.
19 Hugo Lloris
It is downright baffling that supposed respected football analysts refuse to list the Tottenham Hotspur and France No. 1 right alongside Manuel Neuer as the top goalkeepers in all of the sport. Neuer is listed at 6-foot-4, while Lloris is generously said to be 6-foot-2, and yet the two are equal are is pertains to physical gifts and an ability to save points for their sides. Lloris is the best overall goalkeeper in the Premier League, and he could end up being the new Tottenham captain as quickly as August 2015, after putting pen to paper on a new deal with the club.
18 Sydney Leroux
What? Nowhere in the title does it suggest that this list will only include male footballers. While the likes of United States Women's National Team players Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan generate headlines – all for their own unique reasons – it is Leroux who has flourished and become the so-called “next big thing” in US Soccer. With the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada occurring this coming summer, Leroux is, so long as she can remain fit, on the verge of becoming a superstar both in the States and overseas.
17 Robbie Keane
Far too many forget about the ageless wonder because he plays in the North American top-flight, but Keane-o is still a world class striker who could make life miserable for defenders in the best European leagues out there. Keane has helped turn LA Galaxy into a modern MLS dynasty, hoisting the MLS Cup on three occasions. The veteran who spent time with multiple Premier League sides, including Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, has been a great get for both MLS and the Galaxy, and some have called him the greatest footballer to ever play in MLS.
18. Joao Moutinho
It doesn't seem like it was only a few years ago when multiple Tottenham Hotspur managers made moves to acquire the dynamic play-maker out of Portugal. Neither Harry Redknapp nor Andre Villas-Boas could pull the trigger on the move, however, and Spurs still have yet to replace Luka Modric. Moutinho, meanwhile, made the switch to Monaco in 2013, where he has continued to develop as a magician on the ball and a player who deserves to participate in Champions League matches on a yearly basis.
Premier League fans will remember Gervinho for his up-and-down Arsenal career that was far more down than up, but Gervinho has silenced his critics by excelling while with Roma. Manager Rudi Garcia, who had previously worked with the Ivory Coast striker, has done what Arsene Wenger could not with the Gunners, and that is get the best out of his erratic front man who is probably never going to shake his reputation for wasting scoring opportunities. Nevertheless, Gervinho has, with his career turnaround, earned a spot in this piece.
15 Rubio Rubin
Rubin is either underrated or slightly overrated depending on how you look at the matter. A product out of the academy of the Portland Timbers, Rubin chose to make the move overseas early into his career and sign with FC Utrecht. Eligible to play for both Mexico and the United States, Rubin elected to play for the US, and he has performed for his nation at the under-17, under-20 and under-23 levels. Some have referred to Rubin as the next Landon Donovan, which may be a bit of a stretch at this point of his career.
14 Nuri Sahin
Here is yet another individual who had failed stints at other clubs -- Real Madrid and Liverpool in this instance. Sahin has been a bright spot in what has been a disastrous campaign for a Borussia Dortmund side that is still, as of the posting of this piece, not safe from relegation. Sahin completed his permanent switch bad to Dortmund in 2014, where he has averaged a match rating of 7.34 during the campaign. Injuries have slowed him down, but he has impressed when on the pitch to the point that Inter Milan are reportedly interested in him.
13 Enner Valencia
Valencia attracted attention from fans and from scouts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where he notched three goals for Ecuador in the group stages of the tournament. He has done well to adjust to making the move to England and the Premier League, and the West Ham United forward has attracted attention from some of the top managers in the business. Chelsea, most notably, are reportedly interested in acquiring Valencia during the summer months, a move that would be the natural next step of a budding career.
12 Daley Blind
If one was building a starting XI for a game that would decide his fate regarding a serious matter, he would have to consider choosing Blind for the lineup. He isn't flashy. Blind is not going to pick up FIFA Ultimate Team elite status on a regular basis. As unspectacular as he advertised to be from time to time, Blind does all of the little things right, and he is a gritty on-the-pitch leader who remains cool under pressure regardless of the circumstances. Blind was one of the star players of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, though not enough people noticed.
11 Andrew Robertson
Robertson's time has not yet come, but the 20-year old defender who currently plays for Hull City will be a talking point during the upcoming summer transfer window. A product of the Queen's Park youth academy, Robertson made the switch to Hull in the summer of 2014. He was a hit right out of the gates, winning Player of the Month honors for Hull in his first month in the Premier League. The young potential superstar to-be also has international experience on his resume, playing for Scotland at the under-21 and senior levels.
10 Christine Sinclair
With the twilight of her bright career in the not-so-distant future, the greatest women's footballer in the history of Canada, who became a household name during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, will have one final chance to feature for her national side this coming summer. Sinclair, who will turn 32-years old in June, has earned multiple personal honors for her performances on the pitch, including being awarded a star on the Canada Walk of Fame. Enjoy watching Sinclair while you can. She has been a special player to behold.
9 Miralem Pjanic
How the stellar play of Pjanic continues to go ignored by far too many remains a mystery. Pjanic is a magician on the ball, possessing an ability to pick out a pass and create opportunities for opponents that we mere mortals don't see as possibilities. Pjanic recently put pen to paper on a deal that is slated to keep him at Roma for several years, but there are whispers that he could be eying a move to the Premier League in the summer months. Liverpool, among other teams, are said to be interested in acquiring the play-maker.
8 Ivan Rakitic
He is not in the conversation for world's best overall player as is Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi. Rakitic is not nearly as flashy nor does he have the cool name like Neymar. He has, since his days at Basel, done well to become an all-around great midfielder, one worthy of featuring for the Spanish giants or for any top club in the world. The pairing of Rakitic and Luka Modric in the midfield of Croatia is downright cruel for opposing countries, and Rakitic, just now entering his physical prime, could still improve over the next couple of seasons.
7 Edin Dzeko
Other Manchester City players make headlines for their actions on and off of the pitch, but it is Dzeko who is, when in form and possessing eyes for goal, the man who makes what is a side filled with star players into one capable of winning the league. Dzeko, who is signed with City through the conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign, may be the least appreciated player in all of the Premier League. He scored nine goals in 11 games to help push City to the league title last season. Watch out, would-be contenders, if Czeko again finds his form this coming spring.
6 Christian Eriksen
Any list out there of the top-50 or even the top-100 footballers in the world today that does not include the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder should be tossed out and disregarded. Eriksen has evolved into one of the top play-makers in the Premier League, helping Spurs save points and earn victories on multiple occasions. Having been eliminated from the Europa League in the opening stages of the knockout rounds, Tottenham will have to finish in the top-four of the Premier League table if they are to have a chance at playing in the Champions League and keeping Eriksen for at least one more season.
5 Loris Karius
Billed to be the next great goalkeeper to emerge out of Germany, the future seems bright for the former product of Manchester City. The 21-year old currently features for FSV Mainz 05 of the Bundesliga, but he is on the verge of making a move to a bigger club before the end of 2015. Borussia Dortmund have had their eyes on Karius for some time, but there are rumors that he may want to expand his horizons and link up with a Premier League side that is also in the Champions League. Both Arsenal and Liverpool have Karius on their radars.
4 Neil Taylor
It was back in September 2012 when Taylor suffered a gruesome ankle injury while featuring for Swansea City in a match versus Sunderland. He committed his future to Swans while recovering from the injury, and he eventually made a full return to action at left back. Taylor performed so admirably that Swans were in a position where they could sell standout defender Ben Davies to Tottenham Hotspur. Taylor has also played for Great Britain in the Summer Olympics and for the Wales Men's National Team in European qualifiers.
3 Seydou Doumbia
Fans of the FIFA video game series has abused Doumbia in Ultimate Team play for years, but now the rest of the world is finally taking notice. Doubmia became an international star while featuring for CSKA Moscow, helping the Russian side win back-to-back league championships. He also notched a brace in the club's Champions League victory over Manchester City. The Ivory Coast striker made a deadline day switch from CSKA to Roma in January 2015, and Roma will be hoping that he can help the club leapfrog Juventus in the Serie A table.
3. Toni Kroos
Where exactly one would put Kroos in a list of underrated footballers all depends on how you rate him as of the winter of 2015. While he has been respected for his work on the pitch since he joined up with Bayern Munich in 2010, it was at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when the world truly started taking notice on his greatness. His play on the world's biggest stage attracted the interest of Real Madrid, and the Spanish giants pounced at the opportunity and signed him in July. He has thus far been worth the investment.
2 Michael Bradley
Bradley had a rough final stint in Italy before joining a Toronto FC side that was in all sorts of disarray, and he had a poor showing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Thus, people already want to write his club and international careers off as being overrated. In the words of a once great National Football League wide receiver and of Internet memes: Child please. Bradley remains arguably the most talented American footballer on the planet, and he will turn only 28-year old this coming summer. Any supposed demise of his career has been greatly exaggerated.
1 Harry Kane
Admit it: You underestimated Harry Kane. I underestimated Harry Kane. Everybody underestimated Harry Kane. The young Tottenham Hotspur star emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become the best striker in the Premier League for 2014-15, and it will only be a matter of time before he is the first player selected for the England Men's National Team. Not since the days of Gareth Bale, which weren't that long ago, have Spurs had a talent like Kane, and Real Madrid have already scouted the front man several times. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy needs to make it clear that Kane will not be for sale this coming summer.
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